Adam Caira / Staff Photo Karen Edwards of Central St. in Northfield looks into the empty store front that used to house The Square Biscuit where a banner now hangs supporting the merger of Northfield Village and the Town of Northfield. "I think it seems like a good idea" Edwards says when asked about the proposed merger.
NORTHFIELD — Walking around Northfield just days before the proposed merger that’s been in the works for decades comes to a vote at town meeting, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.
Residents in the village and town will vote on Tuesday on whether the two municipalities should become one. The merger has been attempted multiple times over the past 50 or 60 years with no success. But listening to the residents, 2013 looks to be the year it finally happens.
If the merger is approved, the Legislature would then have to approve the proposed charter for the town and village to become one.
The proposal for the merger states the village would be absorbed by the town in June 2014. The town would combine the Select Board members and village trustees into a consolidated Select Board. Current Select Board members would serve out their elected terms and trustees whose terms extend beyond 2014 would join the consolidated Select Board until the next town meeting in 2015, where the board would revert to five members.
Mergers are nothing new to Vermont. According to the Secretary of State’s office, there have been 27 such town/village mergers in the state dating back to 1925. There are still 40 town/village dichotomies in Vermont, including Cabot, Marshfield and Waterbury. For Northfield, some residents think it’s about time they joined the list of the former.
Ironically, there were plenty of people found in the village that were residents of the town. All of them willing to talk to The Times Argus on Friday were in favor of merger.
Town resident Randy Peace is the local barber. He gets plenty of residents from both sides of the tracks in his shop and the consensus he has gleaned is that they, like him, want one form of local government.
“(The merger) would enable things to be done in a more proficient, cost-effective way,” he said.
Now, if a town road crew does work on a village road, then the town has to bill the village for the work and vice versa. Peace said the merger would eliminate that paperwork and hassle.
One of the issues that has been raised against the merger is the idea that residents would lose their identity of being villagers or townspeople. That argument doesn’t fly with Peace.
“If you look on the map, you’re from Northfield. It doesn’t say you are from the town or the village,” he said.
Mike DeLary owns property in both the village and the the town, but resides in the town. He’s for the merger and says it’s “crazy” to by trying to run two town governments in one place.
“We literally have employees that work at the town offices that work just for the village and some that work just for the town. We don’t need all these people to be doing double the work,” DeLary said.
While DeLary doesn’t think the merger will have a big impact on the average resident’s day to day life, it should stop “the arguing and bickering about who owns what and whose responsible for what.”
Town resident Peter D’Amico also runs a business in the village. He agrees with DeLary that Northfield doesn’t need two governments.
“New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago all run on one government. Why does a town of 5,000 people need two governments? There is no reason for it,” he said.
D’Amico also agrees that the town should become more civil. He describes recent town meetings as a new incarnation of the Hatfields and the McCoys with town and village residents fighting against each other instead of working together.
Noah Tautfest lives in the town and runs the bike shop in the village. He didn’t even know the town and village were separated until this recent merger attempt started up. Tautfest said he supports the merger from a business standpoint because it will give the town a chance to get better contracts because it will be coming from a more unified position for negotiations.
The only place a dissenting opinion can be found is in letters to the editor at the Times Argus.
Village Trustee David Maxwell wrote a letter recently asking residents to vote down the merger because of a dispute over utilities, although he wrote that he supports the concept of the merger.
“The current Village charter is a strong and important document that protects the interests of the rate payers of the utilities. Currently, the utilities are overseen by an elected Board of Trustees. Under the proposed merger document, an appointed commission, not autonomous from the select board would oversee the utilities,” Maxwell wrote.
He goes on to write that, “Town and village residents benefit from the Village owned and financially well run utilities. Users of the water/sewer systems currently vote to make important decisions regarding upgrades, expansion and protection of the systems. Merger as proposed would dilute their power to control these decisions.”
On Tuesday, the decision will be made.
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